You want vacant possession.
What do you do with this stuff?
Tempting though it is, it may be unwise to throw the items straight into the nearest skip. It is possible that the items have been “abandoned” (in this context a technical term involving intention to abandon), in which rare case you are entitled to dispose of the items. However, the former occupiers may well be able to deny any such intention; instead, they may sue for what they claim to be the true value of the goods left behind.
In law, you have become an “involuntary bailee” of the goods. This brings with it a duty to use reasonable care to look after them until they are returned to their owner or disposed of legitimately.
In practical terms, now is the time to take some photographs, ideally in the presence of a witness. They may help down the line to defeat any allegation of damage caused by your lack of care.
To return or to lawfully dispose of the items requires you to make contact with the former occupiers. Sections 12 and 13 of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 confer on you a power of sale of the uncollected goods, provided you follow the Act’s notice requirements.
The Act provides two separate powers of sale, one without and one with the Court’s authority.
Your preference will be the former. In which case, if questioned at a later date, you may need to show either:
(a) that given notice (see below) the former occupier has failed to take delivery of the chattels;
(b) that you could impose such an obligation on them by giving notice, but you do not know where they are; or
(c) that you can reasonably be expected to be relieved of any duty to safeguard the goods by giving notice to the former occupier, but you do not know where they are.
The notice required (by section 12) is a written notice giving your name and address and some details of the goods
and where they are held, as well as stating that they are ready for delivery and (though this may not arise in most
cases) specifying the sum due and payable to you in respect of those goods.
This sum might include, say, the cost of hiring a garage to store a vehicle.
The notice must be given by (a) delivering it to the former occupier or (b) leaving it at his proper address or (c) by post.
Additionally, where this notice is sent by post (by registered letter or recorded delivery) it should be combined with the separate notice (under Part II of Schedule 1 of the Act) of your intention to sell the goods if they have not been collected within a reasonable period.
Fourteen days should usually be sufficient time to allow collection of the goods, but this will depend on the circumstances of the case.
Resorting to the sale of the goods is not commonplace. If sold, you will owe a duty to raise a reasonable return (an auction is the usual method) and will be liable to account to your ex-tenant for the net proceeds of sale.
If a dispute arises between you and the former occupier, you will not be able to sell the goods after the reasonable time for collection has elapsed; you will have to make an application to the Court for an order permitting a disposal under Section 13 of the Act.
A particular problem is where the cost of removal and sale exceeds the item’s value. Disposal for scrap may be more cost-effective. This will always carry some risk, but if you want to follow this approach, you should give notice under the Act and also explain by covering letter that if the goods are not collected you will take non-collection as a consent
obtain independent evidence of the absence of value.